Friday, May 27, 2011


Scrambling through deep, muddy tire ruts of veritable lakes on the old Forest Service roads, the four wheel drive truck seemed more like a secure tank than a late model Ford. But upon arrival at the cleared field, we opened the door to the morning's suffocating humidity and a cicada chorus reminiscent of the Dominican Republic. It wasn't even 10 am and the woods were alive with cicadas, thousands of them, so many that the chorus almost hurt one's ears. The Ozark woods sounded tropical.

Earlier last week, I read posts on the Missouri Birds listserve that proclaimed that the cicadas were hatching all over the state. "Alas and alack!" read one post from a fellow Audubon chapter member, "the cicadas are hatching!" Good news for ground feeding birds who are undoubtedly gorging themselves on the nymphs as they issue forth from the pliable soil, not so good news for birders who depend on birdsong for identification. It's the 13 year cicada hatch -going on right now in Missouri- a season to remember. I've talked to at least five people in the past week who regaled me with tales of the last hatch, 13 years ago.

So I went birding this morning, beginning one of four 6 week long woodland bird surveys. The cicadas weren't out at 6:15 am, and they sweetly remained quiet until around 10 (coincidentally, the same time most of the songbirds I wanted to document quiet down). I've been in woods lately at 8 am with an overwhelming chorus, a great force of nature but a true impediment to conducting breeding bird surveys. Is it even possible?

The local newspaper reports that cicadas will continue to call for approximately 6 weeks, the duration of my bird surveys (I like to finish them by the first week of July). Can the cicadas wait to start their chorus until 10 am? Can they not be present at certain parts of the Ozarks, like, those areas where I need to sample woodland birds? Love cicadas, really I do, I think they're gorgeous creatures with their red eyes and intricate wing veins, but I sincerely hope their 13 year festivities don't completely ruin every opportunity for bird surveys for the next 6 weeks...

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